Class action lawsuit filed over backlogged rape kits - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Class action lawsuit filed over backlogged rape kits

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Tim Andrassy / FOX13 News Tim Andrassy / FOX13 News
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    Friday, October 4 2013 3:43 PM EDT2013-10-04 19:43:45 GMT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

The city of Memphis is facing a class action lawsuit over the Memphis Police's backlog of untested rape kits.

A rape survivor sued the city saying her rape kit has sat untested in a police storeroom for 13 years. The woman's attorneys say her constitutional rights have been violated by the city and the police department.

 The 13-page lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Downtown Memphis, and since it's a class action, other rape survivors could join the suit as plaintiffs.

DOWNLOAD: Read the class action lawsuit against city of Memphis

Lawyers are identifying the plaintiff as Jane Doe to protect her identity as a sexual assault victim.

The court documents say a man broke into her home in 2001. She was bound by the suspect and sexually assaulted.

According to the complaint she was brought to the rape crisis center for treatment and an exam, but it says her rape kit, or sexual assault evidence kit, was never submitted for testing.

"There was an intentional decision made by the police department that they would treat crimes against women -- domestic violence, and sexual assaults -- differently than other crimes they investigate," said Robert Spence, Jr., plaintiff's attorney. "Crimes of that nature, rapes and sexual assaults they chose not to investigate them to throw the rape kits in a trash heap and essentially victimize the victims twice."

MORE: MPD: Needs more $, time to test rape kits
MORE: Number of untested rape kits even higher than anticipated
MORE: MPD turns up 7,000 more unprocessed rape kits

MORE: Progress being made in processing of rape kits
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MORE: RAINN: What is a rape kit?

The complaint alleges the city of Memphis deliberately deprived "Jane Doe" and the other plaintiffs of their rights. It goes on to say the city of Memphis' conduct created an environment where sexual assault suspects were allowed to prey on victims without fear of investigation by the police department.

"They want there to be a declaration that the city of Memphis violated their constitutional rights," Spence said. "Two, they want a court of law to issue and injunction enjoining the city from ever treating women like this again, and thoroughly to the extent they're entitled to it, they want to be compensated by a court of law for the injustice that they suffered."

Police Director Toney Armstrong was asked about the lawsuit at a news conference Friday night. He had not seen the class action suit and declined to comment on a pending legal case, but he did talk about his commitment to clear the rape kit backlog.

"We got to get it right regardless of how it happened or who's watch it occurred on," Director Armstrong said. "I'm here now. I take full responsibility for it moving forward and that's my whole thing. Let's move this process forward, let's get these victims the due diligence as we can."

It's not clear what effect if any this lawsuit will have on the city's efforts to catalogue, test and investigate the rape kits in its possession. The plaintiffs are asking for an injunction prohibiting the city from continuing policies of not testing kits.
 
Director Armstrong said that's not his department's policy.

"Police directors from the current one through Godwin down the list are going to be deposed because I want to understand why and I think the victims want to understand why," Spence said.

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